- You may eat at night because you didn’t eat enough calories during the day.
- For most people, eating later in the evening will not negatively impact your health or your metabolic rate.
- Eating regularly throughout the day can help strengthen your hunger and fullness cues and help stabilize appetite levels.
Many working adults do not eat enough food throughout the day. A busy schedule can interfere with eating, resulting in skipped meals or sometimes the portions served aren’t big enough.
Instead of resting and allowing your brain a chance to recharge through sleep, you lie awake at night thinking about food.
This article can help you better understand why you’re hungry at night and what you can do during the day to help regulate your appetite.
What Causes Hunger at Night?
Hunger is a physiological need to consume food and provide the body with fuel. If you can’t sleep at night because you have stomach pains, feel alert, and can’t stop thinking about food - your body might need more fuel. Daytime actions can contribute to night hunger if:
- You skipped meals or snacks during the day.
- You ate, but the portion sizes were too small.
- You exercise regularly, and your body needs more food for recovery.
- Hormonal fluctuations can affect your appetite.
- Your meals were light on fats, which promotes fullness.
- You are missing fiber, which also promotes feeling satisfied after a meal.
Is Eating At Night Bad?
Some people believe that eating at night can negatively impact your metabolism. While it is true that most people's metabolic rate is the slowest at night, current research has found that portion sizes were an essential factor in weight gain, not the timing of eating.
A review from 2015 found that people who ate small meals (<150 calories) at night did not experience any adverse health effects. People who exercised in the evening burned the snack even faster than non-exercisers due to an increased metabolic rate.
You may need a nighttime snack to manage certain health conditions. For example, people with diabetes may benefit from a snack before bed to help keep their blood sugars and insulin levels stable overnight.
If you do find yourself hungry at night, start with a small, well-balanced snack and see how you feel after fifteen minutes. This gives you an opportunity to observe your hunger and fullness cues. If you’re still hungry, serve yourself another portion and eat until you feel satisfied.
Opt for foods with a blend of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean protein, which will be the most filling. This could be a serving of unflavoured yogurt with berries and a handful of nuts or a slice of whole-grain toast with cheese and tomato slices. Try to have a larger dinner the next day to observe how that impacts your hunger later that night.
Sleep Quality Can Suffer
Lying down immediately after eating can increase your risk of experiencing acid reflux, where acid from the stomach slips back up the esophagus. This painful sensation can make it harder to get high-quality sleep.
A 2020 UK review with over three hundred thousand participants found that people who consistently slept well had decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
Why Do I Only Get Hungry At Night?
You may feel like you only get hungry at night because you have no appetite during the day. You may have unintentionally conditioned your body to only get hungry at night. This can happen if you repeatedly ignore your hunger cues, or your body’s signals to eat, during the day.
You may have limited time to care for your needs during the day if you work regular business hours. The end of the day might be the only spot in your schedule where you can rest, eat, and relax. Consistently following this schedule can cause your appetite cues to be loudest at night; your body has learned that is the most probable time its needs will be met.
Your body is adaptable, and you can help your hunger cues shift. Start by regularly eating throughout the day; eventually, your body will adapt to this new schedule.
Nourish offers nutrition counseling that is covered by popular insurance carriers. If you want expert nutrition support to help you address nighttime eating, consider booking a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
I’m Not a Breakfast Person
If you’ve been eating at night, it’s hard to picture feeling hungry again in the morning. This isn’t always the case, but most night-grazers will stick with only coffee for breakfast, which doesn’t provide the body with enough fuel.
A potential nutrition goal could be eating something within 40 minutes of waking up. Ideally, choose a high-quality carbohydrate paired with a lean protein. This fuel will help you feel energized throughout the day and can help you regulate your hunger levels.
Here are some simple snacks to try in the morning to work up to a more filling breakfast:
- A handful of nuts with apple slices.
- Whole grain toast with nut butter.
- Greek yogurt with granola and fresh fruit.
- A hard-boiled egg with whole grain crackers and cheese.
Prioritize eating food before drinking your coffee, tea, orange juice, or water. Liquids and beverages can make you feel full quickly and may temporarily reduce your appetite before you can eat any energy-dense foods.
Plan Your Meals
If you struggle to eat consistently throughout the day, you may want to build a meal plan with scheduled eating opportunities. Being busy to the point where you consistently miss meals harms your overall well-being and can increase your chances of feeling burned out.
Shifting your attitude away from “I’ll eat when I have time” to “I need to eat throughout the day to nourish my brain and feel energized” can be a game changer. Regular eating has several benefits, including
- Feeling more productive and having stable energy levels.
- Opportunities to stabilize blood sugars.
- Decreased chances of overeating later. Overeating can increase the risk for high blood triglyceride levels (a type of cholesterol).
- Having a more stable mood and positive outlook.
- Improved digestive health.
- Increased life satisfaction.
Being Hungry At Night is Not Always Bad
You don’t have to change parts of your eating habits if they are not negatively affecting you. Having a nighttime snack might be a family tradition and is an opportunity to have everyone around the table. If you eat a portion that aligns with your hunger cues, your sleep is unaffected, and your overall health is in good standing, you should not worry about nighttime eating. Many cultures around the world follow late-night dining schedules.
See an RD online with Nourish
Eating at night once in a while is normal, but if you catch yourself in the kitchen every night because you’re too hungry to sleep, you may want to see a dietitian. Working with a dietitian can help you see results faster as you learn about sustainable approaches to eating.
Nourish has a team of compassionate Dietitians who can teach you how to manage nighttime eating. If you want to take the next step in your health journey, consider booking a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Frequently Asked Questions
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
- Covered by insurance
- Virtual sessions
- Personalized care